Saturday, September 29, 2012

IFW Edition 1: Lasting Impressions

You can’t be serious Meg!! How much do you even know the guy? I have heard people talk such nonsense before, but I hardly expected you to be a part of those who have lost their mind! You know better than anyone the perils of trusting someone online!” Rachel’s words of admonition kept ringing in Meghna’s ears. After all, whatever Rachel had said did have a modicum of truth to it. Here she was; an MBA graduate, the vice president of her company, reporting directly to the CEO and yet hopelessly falling head over heels in love with a dude she had met through an online game. Meghna had almost fallen victim once to the dangers that lurked behind the shadows of cyberspace but that had been years ago, when just as any adolescent teenager, she had been smitten by technology and chat rooms almost agreeing to meet a 36-year man posing as a 15-year old boy but thankfully her parents had found out in time.

In the years that had passed by, she had grown to be more mature, slowly winning back her parents’ confidence in her and her decisions. It wasn’t a surprise then that being single at 33, her parents weren’t too worried. They had faith in her judgement and held on to hope that in time, she would find her perfect match too. Meghna felt a pang of endearment in her heart, she had met many parents who would push their children to settle down soon rather than later and she thanked her stars that her parents were nothing like them. She wondered how they would react though if they knew who she was harboring romantic feelings for. She chuckled as the thought crossed her mind, even she didn’t know who really she was falling for.

The sharp raps against the door to her cabin jerked her out of her musings. Quickly minimizing the active window on her computer screen, she looked up to see Arup standing by, an apologetic look on his face. A wave of irritation took over her, she hated being troubled for petty IT infrastructure issues but Arup had this exasperating habit of running everything past her.

What?!” Meghna called out.
I .. I.. “Arup stammered. That was one more thing Meghna hated in this guy, the seemingly lack of confidence that showed up every time he talked to her. She had observed him unintentionally plenty of times, sometimes in the lobby or the hallways or conference rooms, talking to others of his own department and he always seemed to be completely in charge, knowing exactly what he was talking about. Yet, here he was, muttering indecipherable gibberish under his breath.
Speak up. How am I supposed to know what you want unless you talk clear and loud.” She said in a condescending tone.

Just as others in the organization, she knew a little about him through idle talk over coffee and lunch. When she had learnt that had earned his degree and IT qualifications through a correspondence course, she had made up her mind that he wasn’t intelligent or qualified enough. In her mind, only losers went the correspondence route. The fact that he had done that because he had had to give up his education to help his family during difficult times had no bearing in her mind. She overlooked the fact that despite those pressures, he had not thought twice about joining a company as an office boy slowly working his way upward, studying and working at the same time. In her mind, he was just not good enough. Despite her attempts to keep her personal opinions away from her professional ones, such misgivings in the back of her mind would creep their way into her attitude towards people.

Now she fretted and fumed, communicating her displeasure clearly as she signed the multiple approval forms required to purchase new servers and cloud space.
Why couldn’t you talk to Mr. Sharma for such things?” She asked him again.
Mr. Sharma is only allowed to approve up to a certain amount Ma’am. I could have split up the invoices into different quarters but then that would only slow down work. Plus it would add up installation charges because we would need someone to come in every time we need a machine set up. As we make the switch from the low capacity servers to the high capacity ones, we would need downtime too when no one can work. This way we would be saving on installation charges, avoid multiple downtimes and also have everything ready in time so work doesn’t get affected.

His clear explanation showed that he had thought this through, analyzed different possibilities sincerely and yet all Meghna did was mumble a ‘Hmm’ in response. Once Arup left with the signed approvals, she redirected her attention to the computer screen. Strider was still offline. As she sat twiddling her thumbs waiting for him to, she reflected on her addiction to ‘Thorvaders’, the medieval war game she had been hooked to since the past year.  It had started out as a way to pass her time, but in the recent couple of months she had not been able to stay away. Thorvaders was a massive multiplayer online role playing game based on a medieval warring era. Multiple clans fought against each other to win the title, each member playing out their designated roles and responsibilities, and the game required a lot of strategic thinking and intellect. Meghna had started out as just another newbie, learning the ropes as she worked as part of a team. But her aggressiveness and passion helped her climb the ranks and in a few months, she had clinched the role of a faction leader. In her new role, she had been required to interact quite a bit with the clan leader, a man who went by the name Strider.

From her first online interaction itself, she had been impressed by his clear concise thinking, his quick wit, his decision making abilities and the fact that he was ready to act as a sounding board for all his faction leaders. Sometimes she faced trouble even pitching her ideas to the CEO, yet here was someone she didn’t even know, willing to give her ideas a shot. She was positive that in real life, Strider would probably be a corporate hotshot too. Day by day, she got the feeling that of all the faction leaders, she was able to connect with him the best. Together they worked on new strategies and improvements, learning from their previous mistakes, recognizing key players and critical weakness in their opponents. Before she could realize, she had made Strider a part of her daily life and somewhere deep down, she hoped she was becoming a part of his. She wished she could meet him in person, get to know him more. A generally stable rooted person, this was all very exciting for her. There was a feeling of understanding, admiration and deep respect for this unseen man which she had never felt with anyone else before. Painfully aware that her infatuations were slowly giving way to romantic feelings, she wasn’t sure whether to act on it.

A metallic ping from the computer indicated that someone had come online. Her heartbeat accelerated as she saw that it was Strider. Not wanting to seem clingy, she waited for him to initiate the conversation. However her joy was short-lived as her phone rang, the shrill sound seeming jarring to her ears. The caller ID indicated Shree from the purchasing department.

Meghna here.
Hi Meghna. Shree here. I just received the approval forms for the invoices of those new servers...
Yes, is there anything else that you need?
Actually, there’s one form that you seem to have missed signing.
Did you not send that with Arup?
We did. Arup just got the whole binder back, one’s missing your signature. Do you want me to send it back?
I’ll be right there.” She sighed, ending the call. To and fro would cost more time, it would be easier to walk over and do what was needed. She hated re-work. Just like Strider did too, she thought, realizing that she wanted to get back online to talk to him. She decided to stop by Arup’s cube on the way to give him a piece of her mind. She had simply signed everything that he had put in front of her, skimming through the pages. It was his responsibility to double check the requirements of the purchasing department.

From a distance, she could see that Arup’s cube was empty. The blue screen of his computer was flickering. Not locking his computer while he was away was a security issue, but the breach hardly registered in her mind as she recognized the all too familiar images on the screen. The hutments, the tall brick walls, the heavy metal vested guards. Thorvaders!! Arup hardly seemed to be the kind of person who would be a part of such a strategic game. She wondered if he was the enemy or part of her clan, and if so, who would he be. Unable to resist, she peeked closer to the screen where his username would show. She gasped as she realized with a start, that it was none other than Strider. Questions clouded her mind, how was it even possible? How could meek, confused, unsure Arup be the confident, decisive, intelligent Strider she had been smitten with? Her mind refused to blend the two identities together as she struggled to grasp the reality of how she had completely misjudged someone based on her initial assessment without bothering to interact with him at a more molecular level or give him the time of day. Shame clouded her mind as she recollected snippets of information and advice that Strider, no scratch that, Arup had shared with her. She thought back of the umpteen decisions that they had agreed upon, how she had always appreciated him online yet had only thought of him in real as unworthy.

Mm .. Did you need anything?“ Arup’s voice brought her back to the present.
Is this? Do you?..” She wavered, unsure of what to say or do. “You play Thorvaders?
Arup shrugged. “You know about it? ” He asked, not waiting for an answer as he continued. “Its not the game I love so much as the experience, the expectations, the people, my team. Its a part of me.” Meghna stood rooted as she observed the usually shy flustered Arup transform into this passionate, sophisticated person. She noted the spark in his eyes that came from the mention of Thorvaders and she realized he was just like her. Passion brought out his confidence.

He blushed suddenly realizing he had spoken much more than he used to with this lady.
Did you need anything?” He asked again.
She took a deep breath, gathering her thoughts. An online personality couldn’t be so completely off compared to a real one could it? There’s only so much one can fake, like addresses and phone numbers, names and age. But a personality is something that you cannot invent. She had been completely wrong in judging him, she owed it to him to give him a fair chance.
Shree called from purchasing, I missed a signature somewhere.” She said.
Oh! I am sorry, I should have..” He started, as she interrupted him.
Don’t be, I could have checked too. Do you want to walk over to purchasing so we can double check everything that’s needed?” She asked softly.
Her soft demeanour must have stumbled him, she noted as she saw the surprise on his face. She had always been snobbish with him. Just like everything she had learned from Strider, this was a learning too. To not be too opinionated and quick in judging people, to give them a chance and to be fair.

As the sounds of their shoes clicked on the hallway in perfect symphony, she decided she might come clean with him one day. But for now, this was enough.


Note: The above piece is an entry to the Indifiction Workshop, a workshop for bloggers interested in writing fiction. The concept creators are two popular bloggers themselves, The Fool and C. Suresh. Every month would be a new plot, this month's plot credit goes to The Fool. The plot details can be found here. My workshop entry can also be accessed here. Proud to announce that this post, Lasting Impressions, was one of the three winners at the Indifiction workshop!

I would love to hear your views!

Friday, September 21, 2012

A lesson in humility

We were in the same bus, albeit a few feet apart. The word 'Striyansathi' (ladies only) had been painted in red font, Marathi on the metal by my side. My husband had found it safer to sit somewhere he couldn't be ousted from, towards the back of the bus. Engrossed in 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo', I didn't initially notice the quite-along pregnant woman who stood a couple of seats ahead of me. She must have been standing for a while, because, when I glanced up, she was uncomfortably shifting her weight from one foot to the other. The left half of the bus was taken up by men and every 'reserved' seat was taken up by women. Not one soul stirred or offered her the seat. Ashamed, I finally signalled the conductor, asking him to beckon her over and stood up offering my seat. Imagine my consternation when a young lady standing next to me fought over my seat despite my open declaration that I was giving it up for the lady who was clearly struggling. I had to communicate to her in clear terms that I would willingly sit back down because I still had a ways to go. Grudgingly, she stepped aside for the lady and I walked back to where my husband sat, muttering under my breath. In the fight for equality and/or reservations, what makes us side-step humanity?

The second incident occured about a week later. On our way back from the Mount Mary Fair at Bandra, in the hullabaloo at the station, my relatives and I accidentally got into the handicapped compartment which was right next to the heavily crowded, elbow-jostling, packed womens' compartment. Despite our assurances that we would get down at the very next relatively quiet station and move to the ladies compartment, some of the folks in the handicapped compartment felt we were trying to occupy their seats and threatened to report it to the authorities. We tried to placate them, giving up our seats every time a 'special' individual got in, communicating through our actions that we weren't trying to take advantage. In the midst of the confusion, two young strapping lads probably in their late teens, looking hale and hearty walked up near where we sat and looked around. Their faces clearly registered surprise as they found no empty seats. Dejected, they continued to stand. A couple of us stood half-heartedly, unsure of whether they deserved to sit instead and worried at the same time about the threats from the others. As we looked on, a young girl joined the two and the three of them started animatedly talking in actions. Sign language, we realized with a start. Deaf or dumb. Maybe both. And then the three of them, turned to us, signing again. This time, they were stressing on us to sit back down, not wanting us to give up their seats for them. We tried to protest, but it was in vain. What is it that they read in our eyes? Was it pity or empathy, I wondered? I looked on amazed as the young teenagers stood strong on their feet, trading in their reservations to travel as a normal individual instead. 

What I witnessed that day felt humbling. Most of the time, we take so much for granted and fight over petty things, fume over unmet wants, never seem content with what we have, always striving for more which is not a bad thing in itself. It is important to be ambitious and have wants. But in contrast, lessons in humility are sometimes taught at the most unexpected phases in life, by the most unexpected people. 

I would love to hear your views!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The ABCs of Education

The classroom is a cemented structure, decent enough, but the setting indicates a slum or a rural village. There are no benches. The kids aged 4-6 years old are mostly unkempt, a couple of them in tattered clothes, their knees grazed with white plaster from the walls. They sit cross-legged on the floor balancing their slates and pieces of chalk pencils. Across from them, the teacher spells out the days of the week, names of fruits, etc. on the blackboard and the children neatly copy them down on their slate boards word for word. Sounds familiar? The scenario I am describing is that of a Youtube video which went viral a few months ago. 

I vaguely recall that when the video went public, a huge sect of viewers wholeheartedly engaged themselves in bashing the education system or the specific ‘teacher’ in question. Community based racism reared its ugly face yet again in stating that such events would only occur in places like Uttar Pradesh or Bihar. Some highly educated NRI individuals working white collar jobs scoffed at the way education was being conducted in India, thanking their stars that they had gotten out in time. The media, as has become the norm now, went about decapitating the efforts of the ‘teachers’ who despite their own failings, was up there, trying to show someone else the right way. As can be seen in the video, the media succeeds in making mincemeat of both the ‘teachers’. The effects of the video stayed with me for a long time, as I went about googling NGOs like TeachIndia, Teach For India, The Teach India Project etc that helped with empowering the underprivileged youth with education, providing them a chance at a decent life ahead. But I’ll shamelessly admit, that like any other passionate project where I have dived in with full enthusiasm, this one too got shelved aside due to the other myriad day to day responsibilities between handling work outside and within the home. I have long since learned that jumping in, holding my breath is not going to work. Instead testing the waters and easing myself in probably will. More than a year has passed since the video made the rounds on national television and social networking sites. Nothing has changed. My conscience continues to niggle at me. The budding list of questions within my head continues to grow. And with a renewed enthusiasm, albeit, slow and steady, having gained quite a bit of volunteering experience abroad, I explore the possibilities again. Amidst all of it, I ask; 1. Can we really blame the ‘teachers’ for imparting wrong education? What they’ve learnt is what they continue to teach. And what the tiny tots learn is what will get passed along later. A classic example of a vicious circle. Point is, how do you break it? 2. Per the State Government of Maharashtra mandate, a teacher spends the first two years as a ‘temporary’ where the pay is simply decided by the school, not by the government pay scales. Agreed, that there might be a minimum wage ruling, but on an average a high school teacher earns Rs. 4000 per month for the first two months. In the course of these two years if for any reason, he/she needs to quit the job and join elsewhere, the two year term gets reset. Once the two years are up, pay scales improve substantially. But for those two years or more, how is a school teacher expected to get by on such measly payments? The Indian society today is still largely a patriarchal society, where the primary bread earner is a man. Is it a surprise then that we do not see many men as school teachers? Man or woman, how would one be expected to run a household on Rs. 4000 a month? Shouldn’t the education department be looking into this? 3. The Teach for India initiative enlists young educated people as volunteer teachers, for a term of two years. Though I applaud the initiative, I wish there was a flexible term option too. Yes, the continuous change in teachers might tend to confuse children but then this would at least encourage more interested people to pitch in and might benefit in the long run. On similar lines are the CSR initiatives run by organizations where even full time employed individuals can do their bit, all for a good cause. Initiatives like online teaching for rural kids through Skype or other video conferencing are yet to take off in a big way but there are honest individuals trying their best in those areas as well. Progress is slow yet steady. The web can be a host of information but it can get overwhelming too. Where would we find the specifics about such programs? 4. As much as the media prides itself on coverage of such social issues, aren’t we entitled to follow ups? So, they chanced upon this school, there are many others like this one, even in urban cities. This school was shoved into the limelight but what happened next? Did it help? Did the situation improve? The much talked about show Satyamev Jayate took off to a dashing start, putting the spotlight on quite a few ‘accountability’ holders, demanding answers. There were promises of follow ups and to a certain extent, they were attempted too. But how does one keep up the momentum?

A cartoon downplays the Right to Education Act
Image source: cartoonistsatish.blogspot.com
5. As opposed to the ill-thought of 'Air hostess training program' for tribal girls which turned out be a complete disaster considering that they did not meet the criteria or even know spoken English, the RTE act was a very well meant, deserving initiative. We will need many such more in our quest. But how does one go around convincing children that education will help them in the long run? What about the ones like house-help or beggars on the street who do it for three square meals a day? Can you blame them for wanting short term benefits that quench their hunger today than long term ones? Just like community hours are assigned to juvenile delinquents in the US, I wish volunteering a certain number of hours annually is made a mandate to every citizen. After all, giving back to the community that set the base for where you are today, shouldn’t be that difficult should it? I am sure it would be a very humbling experience. Sometimes I wish I can just forget all of this and adopt the famous ‘Chalta Hai’ attitude. Life would be way easier. But that’s the thing, I can’t. I would love to hear your views!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

B.E.S.T So not the BEST!

The King Long B.E.S.T AC bus scam has already been beaten to death by one and many in the world of media. At the end of the day, nobody seems accountable for the fact that in the name of King Long buses from China, buses that were purchased were in effect made in India. Mumbai Mirror covered the entire scam but no one gave answers. What is strange is the company King Long never hit back against any of the allegations either! You can read more about Mumbai mirror's coverage of the issue hereWell, here's my personal experience aboard one such King Long, err, Fultoo Desi. 

King Kong B.E.S.T AC buses ply the road in Mumbai.
Image source: Mumbai Mirror
I usually avoid B.E.S.T AC buses because I have known them to be super slow along with malfunctioning ACs leaving the interiors all stuffy as well as the fact that they have become notoriously famous for leaving commuters stranded owing to a host of mechanical faults. But because there seemed to be none others in tow, my mother and I were aboard yet another useless AC B.E.S.T bus where the air conditioning was not functioning (at all!) and the bus was super-slow. So when we finally complained to the conductor, upon discussion with the driver, they pulled into a depot and brought it to a halt to be checked by the mechanic. The conductor and the driver both hailed curses on the mechanic since they had apparently raised this issue already with him in the morning before driving it out of the depot. The mechanic however, had okay-ed the bus and had said everything was working fine. Allegedly, since that conversation, the AC had broken down multiple times that morning. While we argued with the mechanic, bolstering the conductor's and driver's statements other commuters were absolutely silent. Finally, because we were running late we fought to travel by a normal bus where we wouldn't pay for the tickets because we had already paid for the AC bus (way higher than the non-AC!) which had been brought into the depot after not even five minutes of travel and we still had a long way to go. Initially though the ticket-checker wouldn't let us, despite the fact that B.E.S.T's the one that stood to gain money, he finally let us. It was probably just to get rid of us though! As we got into the non-AC bus, I heard a commuter from the AC bus saying he was okay to travel by that same bus, he didn't mind that it didn't have AC and was slow. His argument: Not everyone in Mumbai has AC in their homes or cars. "People don't walk around with an AC on their head, do they?" He remarked animatedly. 

My point: People who do not have AC in their homes don't pay for one do they? And if they do, do they not have a right to expect a decent level of service? At the end of the event, I was still left with a bad taste in my mouth. Arguing with the bus driver/conductor/mechanic was hardly going to solve the problem, especially if we were the only ones doing that. It's not a question of a few rupees, its a question of accountability. 

Are commuters in AC buses expected to be cool and classy and standing up against such scams considered lowly? Why is everyone expected to just go along with the nonchalance charade? What's with the 'Chalta Hain' attitude? 
I would love to hear your views!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

In their honor

This post has been published by me as a part of the Blog-a-Ton 31; the thirty-first edition of the online marathon of Bloggers; where we decide and we write. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton. The theme for the month is 'Strangers in the Night'
Image source: Wikipedia
Pavan stood watching the proceedings, mesmerized. The 'Ritual dance between bitter brothers', as the Sydney Morning Herald had called it, had everyone in awe. Hordes of men, women and children thronged to watch the ceremony. A cool breeze refreshed the otherwise parched streets of the village. He stood to one side, watching the members of the ceremony as well as observing the crowd that had gathered around to watch. Cameras and handy-cams were out in full view. As he spotted a teenage boy watching the proceedings through the camera's viewfinder, busy filming, more enthusiastic about getting it on camera than living the experience, he wondered what would be the fun in that. It wasn't everyday that one got to see an event like this, feel its impact on our conscience. He shrugged, thinking maybe the boy was too young, he wouldn't have gotten it anyway. All around him, there was an excited murmur, people enchanted by the event, a feeling of togetherness and brotherhood inadvertently seeping its way into the mob. Instrumental music played along, in perfect symphony, the patriotic kinds that would be played during national events.

Beside Pavan, a father hoisted his baby daughter, who was clearly in an excited mood, onto his shoulders so she could get a clearer view. A few geriatric men stood at attention, in silence. The attitude seemed to be percolate through to him, or maybe it was the purpose which had brought him here, but he stood erect too, at attention, focused on the events unfolding in front of him. His friends had not wanted to join him, they did not think it warranted the time and money he was spending on this trip. But Pavan had always known he was different, he had wanted a higher purpose in life, like he was born to do more just save some money for foreign clients or earn big bucks for himself. While his friends had been landing hot jobs in campus interviews, he had been scouring local newspapers and the internet for the career of his dreams. Now he was here to reaffirm his calling, to make sure that this was what he really wanted. He did not want to ever regret this one decision in his life.

Image source: Wikipedia
In the distance, the sunset cast deep red hues across the sky giving a magical look to the entire show, as if nature too chose to honor them. His chest swelled with pride as he recollected that he was standing at a place that had witnessed history. This was the village through which the controversial Radcliffe line, the boundary demarcation line dividing India and Pakistan upon the partition of India was drawn. The village that had been divided by independence in 1947. He watched as the parade drew to a close and the crowd erupted in a thunderous applause. On their respective sides of the border, Indian and Pakistani flags were lowered in a perfectly coordinated effort and soldiers from both sides shook hands.

Dusk was settling in, soon it would be pitch dark save for the light from the moon and the stars and the few lamp posts distributed far apart. As the retreat ended and the crowds started to disperse, his eyes sought out infantrymen on both sides of the border. What did they have to gain by their noble attempt, he wondered. Who were these men and women willing to make such huge sacrifices for billions of complete strangers? Standing alone, taking in the entire view of the Wagah border, the answer came to him from deep within the recesses of his mind. Standing guard, these strangers in the night would stay awake and alert so that the rest of their countrymen could sleep in peace.

He turned and walked back towards his destination, his hand on his shirt pocket, making sure his entry form to the Indian Armed Forces signed and ready to be posted was still there. Along with a smile on his lips, there was a spring in his step and a marked determination in his eyes. There was no doubt in his mind that coming to Wagah had been the best decision of his life.
The fellow Blog-a-Tonics who took part in this Blog-a-Ton and links to their respective posts can be checked here. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton. Introduced By: Gayathri Kannan, Participation Count: 02
I would love to hear your views!
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